Canadian Lacrosse Association is prepared for backlash in order “to better the game and grow the game”

Scenes like this could become a lot less common in Canadian lacrosse.
Scenes like this could become a lot less common in Canadian lacrosse.

Members of the Canadian Lacrosse Association Board of Directors knew there would be a strong response to their decision to dramatically increase the discipline for fighting, but they believe it was a decision that had to be made, according to Executive Director Melissa McKenzie. “We never condoned fighting; we’re just making a stronger stance on it,” McKenzie told IL Indoor. “I don’t think that you can eliminate fighting altogether. We’re just stating that we’re not going to tolerate it.”

McKenzie said fighting had been a topic of discussion among the board for some time, but cited a bench-clearing brawl in the British Columbia intermediate league in May as an incident that spurred them to action. The brawl, which garnered broad media attention, highlights two elements that McKenzie says were important considerations in the rules that will see any player who willingly engages in a fight receive a game misconduct in addition to the previously existing major penalty.

First, says McKenzie, “We are interested in maintaining the dignity of the game and maintaining a positive image in the public eye.” More importantly, though, McKenzie said the CLA needs to look out for the safety of its players.

“As a national sport association it’s our responsibility to make sure we create a safe environment for our participants, that we minimize the risks for participants” McKenzie said. “Sport today is a bit different than it was in the past. People are much more hypersensitive and cautious of high-risk behaviour and fighting may fall under that category. Concussions is a huge story these days and the prevention and management of concussions. As an national sport organization, particularly for a sport that may be considered combative, we need to be conscious of that. As an NSO, we just have to do what is responsible and that falls within our values and this is a decision that we felt had to be made.”

McKenzie said the board (which consists of a seven-member executive committee as well as directors of the eight provincial associations, the First Nations and the hall of fame) crafted the new rules after extensive thought and discussion. The member primarily responsible for overseeing the application of the rules, VP Domestic Development Steve O’Shaughnessy, says the new rules bring lacrosse more in line with other sports and believes the CLA faces a challenge to educate “players, coaches, fans that fighting is not part of the game. Fighting is actually a negative impact on all sports. We see it in other sports: when a fight happens, those players are removed.”

Many proponents of keeping fighting in the game suggest that it allows players to police themselves by forcing players to face an immediate, on-floor consequence for dirty play. Those proponents say that working to remove fighting from the game will result in an increase in other dangerous infractions when players feel they can get away with more.

O’Shaughnessy says the CLA will continue to educate its referees on how to handle game situations, but that dirty play is always a point of emphasis. “You don’t hit someone from behind, you don’t slash somebody inappropriately, trying to dislodge the arm instead of the ball. That’s the education that we provide to our officials every year as part of our clinic materials and part of our instructions.”

“It’s going to be an education situation for the next few years,” he continued, although he pointed out that levels below midget had already included an ejection for players who fought in a game, so it will be at the junior and senior levels where the learning curve will be steepest.

O’Shaughnessy stressed that the rules are aimed at making lacrosse the best it can be. “We want the best game put forward, the fastest game on two feet where goals are scored, players play hard and players play within the rules. We’re trying to better the game and to grow the game.”

He says that lacrosse is “actually losing players because of the fighting part of the game. Players are leaving.” The CLA believes that by removing—or at least reducing—the fear that they’ll have to fight if they want to play lacrosse, it will help to create a safe environment that will draw more players into the sport.

It will be hard to win over those who see such rules as taking the toughness out of the game, though, O’Shaughnessy acknowledged. “The 15-20% of the population that feel that fighting is part of the game, that’ll be the biggest fight to try to turn that. The other 80% want to have a fast, clean game. When you watch a Minto Cup final where it’s 12-10 and there wasn’t a fight the entire tournament, that’s lacrosse and that’s the fastest game on two feet.”

Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at stamplax@hotmail.com.

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